Babe Ruth-like, I recently left one publisher’s freelance employ and took up with a rival. Before bringing me into their freelance fold, the new organization put me through a couple of psychological tests, which revealed, among other things, that I am not graceful in receiving criticism.
Which enraged me, of course.
For two reasons, actually:
The first being my agreement with my pal Bill Sweetland who once refused to submit to a performance review because, he told his supervisor, "I know my faults in infinitely more detail than you ever will!"
More importantly: I’m a writer—a real writer. Most of the time, when I give you a work product, it means I’ve considered a number of approaches, painfully settled on one, sweated and reconsidered most lines at least twice, stood and applauded at a few of my own phrases and eventually gazed, exhausted, at the whole thing and thought: Yes. This works.
So if I seem a little uptight, or "defensive" or "sensitive" during our "feedback" session, it’s not because I think it’s impossible that my piece could be improved. It’s because I’m waiting for you to prove that you’ve thought about the product as hard as I have; it’s because I need you to prove that there really is something wrong with my creation, or something that could be more right. (And yes, I take it "personally"; I made it, didn’t I?)
When you prove your thoughtfulness, coherently explain the reasons behind your criticism, I’ll be fine. Indeed, if you help me improve my work, I will be grateful. And if you do this frequently enough over time, I’ll come to trust your judgment and look forward to hearing what you have to say. But until you do so, I’m going to sound a little uptight on the phone, okay? (Don’t you be so sensitive!) *
To all corporate types who think the highest of all human values is professionalism and the graceful acceptance of "constructive criticism," I reply in the words of a construction crew foreman I know who once told a client who was badgering him, "You think I’m unprofessional? You think I’m unprofessional? Well, fuck you!"
* Has anyone discovered a way to somehow defer the defensiveness until you’ve had a chance to consider the feedback fully? I would be grateful for that.